House of Lies: Jerks Conning Jerks

New TV series often benefit from chance, and of the new shows debuting this midseason, Showtime's House of Lies -- based on the memoir House of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time -- may be the most serendipitous of them all. Thanks to the recent Occupy Wall Street movement, the public is well aware that corporations, especially financial institutions, are big jerks, and shockingly (shockingly!) in it only for the money. In lieu of coattails, House of Lies has ridden OWS's dreadlocks and tie-dyed skirts in its trailers and other promos, playing up the series' band of modern-day merry men stealing from the rich and sticking it to the one percent.

But latching onto the OWS movement was a bit misleading. The fictional Galweather and Stearn management consultant firm isn't stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Instead, Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle) and his team are playing a game of high-risk Three-Card Monty by duping giant corporations into paying for their thousand-dollar sushi bills and strip-club whoring sessions in exchange for information the companies should already know. The trick for Kaan is to make the corporations think they need him, even though he's regurgitating info they already have, obscured by "indecipherable jargon" (his words) and a sense of bloated confidence.

It's a great concept. So why does House of Lies feel so hollow? From a viewer's standpoint, the pilot felt like a pilot. If you watch a lot of television, you know what I mean. There was plenty of unnecessary flash and titties (my 16-year-old self is facepalming over my current self complaining about too many breasts), essentially announcing, "We're on cable!" There was tons of exposition delivered under the guise of hustling and bustling, like a magician trying to get you to look at one hand while the other yanks a rabbit out of a secret compartment. And there was awkward, forced relationship-building between Marty and Jeannie (Kristen Bell), who speak to each other as if they just met.

On an emotional level, we all want to see these guys hoodwink the financial fat cats as retribution for eating all the pie, which they do. But the pilot didn't give us any real sense of what they do with the money besides take shots of Ketel One off strippers' asses. Not exactly a victory for the little people. Marty Kaan (sounds like "con," get it?) is suppose to be our hero, but he's merely a leech who's sustaining his own disgusting wealth by sucking on the fat of CEOs by switching between sycophantic praise and esteem-crushing takedowns like the push-and-pull you get from your bipolar boyfriend/girlfriend. Over the course of the pilot, Marty banged his pill-addicted business rival (who is also, conveniently, his ex-wife), made it rain with a gorgeous stripper on a client's dime, and told his young, sexually confused son that the kid couldn't play Sandy in the school's production of Grease because Marty wanted to, and eventually did, have sex with the mother of a girl who also wants to play Sandy.

But what happened at the very, very end of the pilot gave me a ray of hope. There was a glimmer of change in Marty's eye as he almost asked Jeannie a question about what kind of man he is. Marty's recognition that he's no better than the corporations he's fleecing is going to be the interesting story moving forward, and if the rest of the season explores his internal conflict, things will get better. It's just too bad we didn't see more of his uncertainty in the pilot, because all we were left with was jerks conning jerks.

House of Lies is off to a rough start due to the pilot's emphasis on flashy lifestyles instead complicated characters, but there's a lot of talent in the cast -- and pilots (especially those for half-hour serialized comedies) aren't often indicative of the total package. This is a wait-and-see situation.

Notes:
– Though he isn't the most righteous of men, Marty Kaan does have charisma, and that's all thanks to Don Cheadle, one of my favorite actors.

– Main characters pausing the action to address the audience works great in high-school comedies (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Parker Lewis Can't Lose), but seeing it in House of Lies is like watching grown-ups play Dance, Dance, Revolution. There's a point on the maturity spectrum where it really should stop.

– It was great to see Anna Camp, who played True Blood's Sarah Newlin (the reverend's wife), again. I guess the lesbian bathroom-stall scene was a plus? And hubba hubba on the stripper in that scene too, right guys?


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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If anyone watching this show was looking for a win in the American morals awards, it's not for you (see Leverage & The Office for that). Like Californication and Breaking Bad, it isn't playing in the feel good my values are better than your values game. I love it for that alone. I thought it was a niche audience show. That adult edgy humor loving crowd. And Cheadle is the man.
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Can't see Cheadle in any comedy role. Especially this fast-alking hustler. I generally see consultants as those who can't so they consult instead. Next.
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When will we see some good Family Shows with cute kids and some more Comedy? Whats up Hollywood?
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Usually I don't acknowledge the existence of pilotitis, I like the rush of a new premise and characters, but I having watched this I may get a second opinion. It will be interesting to see what kind of show it becomes. Part of it has elements of Mad Men - selling an idea to clients, except that you don't get the payoff when the idea's sold because we don't want the clients to succeed. A lot of the episode fell flat - I'm starting to think that the lesbian hook-up would have been much funnier if we hadn't seen it happening and it was revealed as a surprise back at the table - but there's Showtime gratuity for you. The first pitch scene (with the 'indecipherable jargon') was so caught up in trying to be funny and having neat cutaways that Don came across as really stupid. Probably the biggest hurdle is that the show's sense of humour is very strange and I doubt many people would find it funny. Hopefully it will improve.
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I disliked it. It was boring. It seemed like it was an hour long. I didn't know know it was a comedy until I read it here.
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I'm sticking with it as long as Kristen is in it. The other great actors are gravy. Kristen is the meat in anything she is in. This should be an hour for sure - more Kristen is never a bad thing.
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My only problem with the pilot is that I didn't laugh, which I assume is a problem because House of Lies is supposed to be a comedy. I found myself a little surprised that a show featuring Don Cheadle, Kristen Bell, and Ben Schwartz didn't make me laugh. To that end, I really hope that they do try to make it a bit more funny... I have a history with Showtime that results in me getting bored of their supposed comedies. Weeds, Californication, and Nurse Jackie are all shows I watched but ultimately gave up on due to boredom. Episodes isn't on the list but that may have more to do with having only aired six episodes. Especially with this cast, I'd really appreciate it if House of Lies wasn't added to that list.



The positive? It was still kinda fun. Not funny, but fun. I love Cheadle, Bell, and Schwartz, and they all did well enough in the pilot. All the scenes that featured any sex or nudity was cool -- a little too Showtime-y, but I'm a sucker for beautiful women. Probably a bit too much music, but the selection was good enough.
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I enjoyed it. LOVE the idea of a hour long serialized comedy. Showtime might be stealing me from HBO.
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i loved it from the beginning to the end.
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Thought it was great.
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The whole thing felt like it was pandering to men way too much, and everything seemed really forced. Also, they gave the bank an idea to look much better than they were going to be, surely this can't make them good guys?
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... it's a comedy AND it's half an hour long? Pass. Shame, I was expecting a great, hour-long, complex drama that has smart writing and deep characters. 30 minutes is for sitcoms.
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Weird. This pilot felt more like a drama than a comedy. One hour would have been better to get to know the characters without giving us that impression of "too much, too fast". I'm not a big fan of the pausing thing. It kinda reminds me that I'm watching a TV show and that the dude is an actor : that just ruins the purpose of fictional entertainment to me.

I'm sticking to it though because the plot could be surprising. After all, they did manage to make lawyers entertaining ( yes, I liked Justice) so management consulting could be fun (and sarcastic).
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I didn't watch the pilot. The reason why is the promo that showtime has been airing. The one for Shameless, Californiacation, and House of lies. It bothers me to see the black guy look into the camera.
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"From a viewer's standpoint, the pilot felt like a pilot."



This. It's hard to form a proper opinion about it so I'll give it a few more episodes. Like mentioned, the ending showed promise regarding the plot.



Hell, Episodes had one of the weaker pilots last season and it turned out to be an amazing show.
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That picture at the top is of Los Angeles Convention Center's south hall lobby, I love that place. Other than that and the casting of Kristen Bell, nothing in this sounds tempting, and since I ain't got Showtime, I'll probably have forgotten all about it by the time it hits Netflix.
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I thought it was ok. Don Cheadle is awesome so that's a plus. And I don't think I even have to mention Kristen Bell. So the cast is great with those two alone. As long as they focus on the characters more than the rest, I'll stick around. Californication was full of nudity, sex, and language for the first half of the first season (which it still is at times, but it's toned down a little bit) and I personally think that it has some of the most interesting characters on tv. So I'll see what happens with this.
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i've watched all episodes of the show Hustle, so for me this was... only worse
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I don't really get this Hustle comparison. Hustle is all about how the con is wrapped up. House of Lies is just about a management consulting firm doing their job (question being, does it worth the money they get for it).
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The comparison is about the conning, breaking the fourth wall, and the 'stealing from the rich' thing. I also totally agree that Hustle was much, much better.
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That's my point : a consulting team is no con men (though I understand that it's close considering what we've seen). I mean Hustle is all about "giving nothing for something to people who want something for nothing". The consulting business is a normal business transaction : money for advice. That advice could be sh*t, but that's not conning.

But the comparison is indeed legitimate on the two last points. Thanks for the precision.
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I'm sticking with it. The cast is good and I can see potential in the characters - although the other two members of the team need more than one line each in future episodes. The constant pausing was annoying but I'm hoping that will gradually disappear as the series progresses. And, of course, Kristen Bell is in it. This is getting the four episode test at the very least.
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After watching the first 20 minutes it just seemed like it was a waste of time.
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Wasn't impressed at all.
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Yeah, I'm just watching it because of Kristen Bell...
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It was alright. It felt like a version of Hustle (with the fourth wall jokes, the "con" like things, and the style of the show) where all the characters are less likeable and more stupid.
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Yes - this very piloty pilot was a bit desperate to please (by way of shocking language and sex primarily) but i still found the characters engaging and I want to find out more. yes they are jerks conning jerks but can you imaging anything more boring that sanctimonious do-gooders robbing fat cats? Kaan & his team are all flawed people on the verge of personal self-destruction in spite of the 6-figure salaries... It will be painful but hopefully interesting TV
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I didn't like it at all. They've simply slapped together a cocktail of sex, nudity and useless corporate jargon. The concept of breaking the fourth wall was unoriginal, not to mention irritating.

What separates Marty Kaan from the rest of the stereotypical egomaniacal man whore antiheroes out there on TV?? We already have one Hank Moody to contend with.

Sure, like any other guy I watched the lesbian bathroom scene a couple of times, but if you remove the sex and nudity out of the equation, you aren't left with much. Marty Kaan's final pitch wasn't that inspiring either.

Don Cheadle is one of my favorite actors as well, but this is not a good fit for him. Have you seen Hotel Rwanda?? THAT is what he's capable of! He needs something good to sink his teeth into.

Kristen Bell was severely underutilized in the pilot. With each show being around 28-29 minutes, I don't see it changing much. She needs to have her own show.
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I agree with the statement "the pilot felt like a pilot". It tried to enter the stage with a bang and fireworks. It had all the elements of a cable show packed in 30 minutes: the nudity, language, sex, and clever dialogue a la Californication. But the thing is that it takes some time to warm up to a new show. And having the pilot packed with all the crazy felt like it was trying too hard to impress. Instead of gentle foreplay, it came on to us with a whip. A little desperate for our attention, if you ask me.

And then there was the constant music in the background. Cool music in itself is great. But cool music doesn't necessarily make a TV episode great, especially if it's played all the time. Also, those several scenes when Marty Kaan turned to the camera felt a little gimmicky. I guess we're going to see more of those but I hope they don't overdo them.

Now, despite my criticism, I liked the show, and I'm going to continue watching it. It's just that the show is clearly still trying to find its footing and therefore it slipped a few times. The pilot was still rough around the edges and suffered from "Pilot Jitters". (It's an actual medical term.) But it sure feels promising. I like the cast and the overall concept of the show. I hope the show manages to find a balance between style and entertainment. It'll be interesting to see how the show is received by a population which right now feels strong antipathy towards the players on Wall Street. Are people going to be to watch a show about a team which tries to come up with more creative ways for companies to fuck over their customers?

Oh, and the lesbian bathroom scene and the stripper scene? Yeah, I might have watched them both on repeat a few times.
More+
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If anyone wants to see this done right, watch the first few seasons of the UK tv show 'Hustle'
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I love Hustle and it has nothing to do with House of Lies. The story, characters and style are different. One should definitely watch Hustle anyway as it is just great.
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it was ok, honestly if it hadn't been for Kristen Bell and Ben Schwartz I wouldn't have even bothered giving it a shot.



it's always weird at first when somebody you have seen on normal movies or tv for years (Megalyn Echikunwoke) goes to pay cable and then takes off their top lol
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Or Dawn Olivieri. Whoa!!
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I really liked it...definitely going to keep watching.
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If you want to see a great show about a fantastic group of cons taking on the 1% and giving to the little guy... watch Leverage.
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As much as I like the show, I'd agree with Im_right_aint_i about saying Leverage is "great."



Maybe it's just because 4 seasons in, they're running out of fun ways to do their cons; or maybe it's because they keep re-doing the whole 'Nate likes to drink' in a lot of their episodes; but the show is getting a tad boring and at least feels like it was a lot better in its first two seasons.
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Great seems to be a bit too much. Leverage is ok but not as great as the british show is based on : Hustle.
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It's similar to Hustle, but not based on it. Do a little research, please, rather than assuming or giving credence to rumors.
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Wow... this comment is one year old... you know how to hold a grudge lol...
Did I say it was an official US adaption (with sale of rights and all) ?
I could have said that Leverage is very very very very very inspired by Hustle but sometimes I like to shorten "very very very very very inspired by" by "based on".
Thanks for the lecture anyway.
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I must watch this just because Kristen Bell is in it. I love her.
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